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Freedom of Information Act 2000: Implementation

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: Today I have deposited copies of The Freedom of Information Act 2000: Statistics on Implementation in Central Government April to June 2005 in the Libraries of both Houses.

This is the second quarterly bulletin produced by DCA monitoring the performance of central government and associated bodies under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It shows that the performance of government in meeting the statutory time limits for replying to requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 has improved significantly since the first quarter.
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Housing Act 2004: Commencement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Baroness Andrews): My honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government are today publishing the detailed programme for commencement of Parts 1 to 4, 6 and 7 of the Housing Act 2004. Appendix 1 sets out a phased introduction of the provisions from November this year leading to a common commencement date of 6 April 2006 for all these provisions except for certain enforcement measures and the new tenancy deposit arrangements, which will follow later in 2006.

The Government have previously announced a provisional timetable for introducing these provisions as from late autumn 2005. We are now in a position to confirm the full timetable, starting with the laying of the HHSRS regulations next month and completing tenant deposit protection in October 2006. This will maintain the momentum established with local authorities and landlord bodies over recent months to equip each to carry out their responsibilities effectively and at least cost to local taxpayers and tenants as from the due commencement date.

By announcing this timetable, we are able to give certainty as to when the new provisions will be coming into force and enable all sides to prepare fully. The Government will continue to work with local authorities and landlords through the IDeA to complete the current training programme, and to extend the extensive local authority/landlord series of discussions that have proved so successful locally in getting the two sides to agree the basis on which applications are to be handled and funded.

Making the secondary legislation available early in draft form, alongside guidance, and then laying the instruments in good time will do a great deal to inform discussions and ensure a wider understanding of the details and operation of the new system than would have been the case with an earlier commencement date.

The ODPM is to appoint a contractor who will undertake work with local authorities to establish a baseline as from later this year and to monitor and measure the impact of the new licensing regime on the private rented sector. Officials will write to local authorities when an appointment has been made and provide details of when the main fieldwork periods will be.

Local Government Finance: Lyons Inquiry

Baroness Andrews: My right honourable friend the Minister of Communities and Local Government has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government announced on 20 September 2005 an extension of the scope and length of Sir Michael Lyons' independent inquiry into local government
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funding so that he can consider issues relating to the wider functions of local government and its future role.

Sir Michael Lyons has discussed with Ministers his work so far and his initial conclusion is that well founded recommendations on possible reforms to the funding of local government cannot sensibly be made in isolation from proper consideration and understanding—not only by government but by the population at large—of the developing role and functions of local government. He has made clear that any proposals for reform of the funding system raise complex issues, and the Government have agreed that they need to be set firmly and explicitly within the wider context of a clear, shared understanding of the role of local government, and of councils' accountability to service users, residents and taxpayers. My right honourable friends the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have therefore extended the terms of reference of Sir Michael's inquiry so that he can consider issues relating to the functions of local government and its future role, as well as, and prior to, making recommendations on local government funding. His work will inform the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007.

Sir Michael will issue a series of discussion documents and produce his final report at the end of 2006. To set the scene for this work, Sir Michael will in autumn 2005 set out his preliminary thinking and publish research and analysis undertaken so far, drawing out the relationship of local government function to finance.

The Government have also announced that they intend to introduce legislation to postpone the revaluation of council tax in England. The case for council tax revaluation—that it is right to maintain a fair alignment between house prices and council tax bands—is linked to wider questions about the structure of the council tax, and to the operation of council tax benefit. It is also relevant that there are a number of other imminent changes in the local government finance system, including the move to three year budgets, the review of the local government finance formula, and the creation of a dedicated schools budget. We have reached the view, therefore, that to proceed with the current timetable for council tax revaluation in England would not be sensible. We propose to legislate to substitute for the current revaluation date of 2007 a power to set a date for revaluation by secondary legislation. This will provide for revaluation to take place in such a way as to take full account of Sir Michael Lyons' work on the functions of local government as well as its financing. The Government do not believe that revaluation will occur during this Parliament.

I regret that the Government could not make this announcement while Parliament was sitting. However, having reached the decision to postpone revaluation, it was necessary to announce it immediately so that the preparatory work could be stood down and costs kept to a minimum. A copy of the press notice issued by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which announces
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the Government's decision, and which includes the extended terms of reference for Sir Michael Lyons' inquiry, has been placed in the House Library.

The future of local government is critical to the future of the country, and the Government are determined to ensure that a sustainable and secure funding base supports the changing and challenging role for local government now being developed.

Murder and Manslaughter

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 1 September we published a consultation paper Hearing the Relatives of Murder and Manslaughter Victims.

The Government believe that while all criminal justice agencies are making progress for example through the "No Witness, No Justice" programme more needs to be done to inform and engage victims and their families.

Our consultation paper outlines proposals for piloting ways of providing such assistance to bereaved relatives of homicide victims by:

The Government intend that the pilot should address a broad range of options for delivering these functions, offering the maximum possible choice to the bereaved. The choices should include an independent advocate, for either or both functions.

This initiative is part of a larger package of measures to support the victims of crime which will be announced as they become ready.

Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

NHS and New Medical Technologies: Select Committee Report

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My right honourable friend the Minister of State (Jane Kennedy) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government's response to the Health Committee's Fifth Report of session 2004–05 on the use of new medical technologies within the NHS, Cm 6656, has been published today. Copies have been placed in the Library.
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